Priyankari is a serial aired daily on Flowers channel with the lead character, Shafna Nizas. Sources say that it is targeted at the European Malayali audience, but the serial has a good fanbase in Kerala.
Plot of Priyankari
The story of Priyankari revolves around Daisy, the daughter of a wealthy businessman who had remarried after his wife’s death. She falls in love with Solomon and almost gets married to him. But she is conned into a relationship with Roy. Roy is a seasoned con man who wants to marry Daisy for her father’s wealth and traps her under false pretences. On the day she was supposed to marry Solomon, she runs away with Roy against her parents’ will; only to start a life of misery and poverty.
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She tries to bring a change in Roy’s thinking. But she gives up and walks away from the marriage when he poisons her to get rid of their baby. Meanwhile, Solomon comes to her aid every time she faces adversity. He is waiting for Daisy to realise her mistake and go back to him. Sandra, a new character enters Solomon’s life claiming that she is deeply in love with him. He, however, dismisses her. So Roy and Sandra team up to prevent Solomon’s and Daisy’s marriage.
Daisy – The Ideal Daughter
Daisy’s character development in Priyankari is poor and inconsistent. She is the poster girl for the ideal daughter who is educated but does not have any ambition. She goes to the church regularly and listens to her parents and lets them make all decisions on her behalf.
However, to differentiate her from usual serial protagonists, she is shown to be independent (but still dependent on her parents financially) by showing her making a few trips to some shops in the locality, meeting a few of her friends and wearing modern clothes. She is also shown as a person who speaks up for herself but only during unimportant events. Her parents are only concerned about her marriage, and she does not seem to have a contrary opinion.
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At no point does anyone even utter the word “job” or talk about Daisy having a source of income. She happily parrots the sentence said by most characters, that her husband will provide for her after marriage.
Love Marriage – The Root of All Evil?
Once she falls for Roy, she suddenly flips and defies everyone in her family and social circle to elope with him. All this despite evidence to indicate that he is making a fool of her. And after marriage, there is an instant transformation. She now wears traditional clothes along with the thali and other jewellery playing into the stereotype of a married woman.
Since Roy is jobless and comes from a poor family with a huge debt, Daisy is forced to think about how they will survive. Even then, she tries to coerce Roy with the usual ‘the husband needs to provide for the family’. Only when they hit dire straits does she think of taking up a job. And even after she does, she reminds everyone at every given opportunity that it was her circumstances that led to this fateful decision.
That job does not last long as Roy manages to sabotage it. Even when her husband and other members of his family ill-treat her and abuse her mentally, she is shown as the epitome of sacrifice and innocence and obeys them blindly. Her naivety at this point is almost unbelievable for a woman of her age.
When their marriage starts going downhill, the age-old advice – ‘a child will solve all problems’ – is given to them. But after she gets pregnant, Roy asks how they can provide for a child when they are not able to sustain themselves. He proposes the idea of abortion, saying that bringing an unwanted child into existence and not being able to take care of it is a greater sin. But abortion, as expected, is seen as taboo and long lectures are given to the audience about how a child is a blessing from the almighty. And only when Roy poisons Daisy, with the intention of killing their unborn child, does Daisy finally walk out. She is suddenly able to see through Roy’s ploys and realises how he manipulated her. She loses her naivety at the flick of a switch.
Decision-making – Not One of Daisy’s Skills
Once she is back at her parents’ house, the ‘fact’ that independent decisions made by an adult woman will always be wrong and that only her parents or society can guide her to the right path, is drilled into the audience’s head. Daisy also loses the little independence that she had in her house. She willingly (out of guilt) agrees to be a puppet at the hands of her parents. She is deliberately portrayed as fickle-minded and unable to see through even basic manipulation. Her father or Solomon have to come to her rescue every time she has a problem.
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Something that sets Priyankari apart is how it does not stress the virginity of the woman as seen in many Malayalam serials and movies. But it also uses this opportunity to indirectly allude to it by glorifying Solomon who despite her marriage, supports her in times of her need and becomes a knight in shining armour. He is praised for accepting a woman who was previously married and had a pregnancy. This is hypocrisy at its best.
Other Women Characters in Priyankari
Another interesting character in Priyankari is Sandra. She was recently introduced to compete with Daisy. Sandra is the complete opposite of Daisy. At least that is what we are expected to believe. She is independent (which is portrayed with the help of a bike that she rides and her modern clothes) and speaks her mind (which makes her ahankaari and evil). She openly confesses her love for Solomon who is the ideal guy for every woman. But they have to give Sandra a negative shade as all modern and independent women are evil and not worthy of the hero’s divine love. Her cruelty is further established (in case anybody missed it the first time) as she joins hands with Roy to plot against Solomon’s and Daisy’s marriage.
The cookie-cutter approach to women characters should not be lost on viewers. Daisy’s stepmother is mostly evil, dislikes Daisy and always tries to pit father against daughter. Roy’s sister is opportunistic, a gold digger and tries her best to create difficulties for Daisy. Roy’s mother is also greedy for money and tortures Daisy for not providing dowry. She makes sure that Daisy does all the household chores and knows that she is not welcome in their house.
Solomon’s grandmother (his only close relative who is alive) is also only concerned about her grandson’s marriage and lives solely for that purpose. Also, she does not forget to praise Daisy’s qualities that make her ideal for Solomon. She doles out unsolicited advice about marriage and traditional gender roles that a wife must fulfil.
Pitting women against women is the usual way to bring drama. It is deliberately done to entertain the audience.
A Few Positives of Priyankari?
Priyankari stands out from its contemporaries in trying to be more realistic by making use of natural costumes, makeup and dialogues. Even though there is some tension and drama created with the help of the background scores, it is quite a drastic shift from the usual serials.
But this is also where the danger lies. Priyankari is merely another serial promoting patriarchal ideas wrapped in faux progressiveness. This makes it all the more difficult for an uninformed audience to identify such toxic and regressive ideas as opposed to the more direct approach in most other serials.
One can only hope that by the end of the serial, Daisy develops a mind of her own and understands that her life is much more than getting married to one of the two male characters. Sandra too has the potential to be a great character if only the makers could let go of their fake morality and inherent biases.
At one point, the line ‘a serial that young women need to watch’ was used to advertise this serial. The only message that young women need to take away from this serial is how not to be. This serial puts up an act of progressiveness while playing to the tastes of the majority. Not being financially independent, not being able to make decisions about their own life, and being coerced to marry at a young age are some deep-rooted problems that continue to uphold patriarchal values.
There has never been a dearth of regressive and toxic content in Malayalam serials. Even in the era of progressive Malayalam movies and short films available on OTT platforms, this continues to be the case. This contrast is primarily due to the difference in the target audience. Serials are watched by an older generation who still enjoy watching dramatic soaps. Hopefully, this will change in the near future. But if you thought Priyankari is one that might kickstart it, it isn’t.